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Demos retain Sacramento-area seat after $19.6 million campaign
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SACRAMENTO . (AP) — The most expensive congressional race in the nation ended Wednesday with no change: Democratic Rep. Ami Bera was re-elected to the Sacramento-area seat he wrested from Republican control just two years ago.

Bera edged out his Republican opponent, former Congressman Doug Ose, by a little more than 1,400 votes out of 183,000 ballots cast. The final margin was 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent.

Earlier in the day, Democratic Rep. Jim Costa won a sixth term to his San Joaquin Valley district after a low-turnout contest that was much tighter than expected and that neither party had targeted. They were the last of the House races to be decided in California, which has the nation’s largest congressional delegation at 53 seats.

California’s independent citizens redistricting process left Bera’s 7th Congressional District closely split between Democrats and Republicans, prompting the GOP and outside conservative groups to target it for a pickup. Their spending prompted Democrats and liberal groups to respond, eventually leading to $19.6 million in overall spending, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.

Of that, outside groups spent nearly $13.5 million. Ose, a commercial real estate developer, dipped into his personal savings to fuel some of the spending. Federal records show he lent his campaign more than $1.5 million.

Bera, a physician, said in a statement that he was grateful for the opportunity to continue serving the district. He will return to a House that will be even more firmly in GOP control after the party expanded its majority during the Nov. 4 midterm elections.

Ose’s campaign did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment.

California again ran counter to the national political trend. The state’s most competitive congressional races, including ones in San Diego, Ventura County and the Inland Empire of Southern California, were won by Democrats.

Ose had tried to capitalize on many of the same themes used by other Republican candidates across the country. He campaigned on repealing President Barack Obama’s health-insurance overhaul and waged an attack against Washington and a government bureaucracy that he said has harmed local businesses through excessive regulation.

Bera focused his campaign on making improvements to the Affordable Care Act instead of repealing it. He constantly spoke about the need for lawmakers to reach across party lines and find ways to compromise.

The race also featured a unique twist in which some Sikh political activists campaigned against Bera, who is Indian American, because they say he refused to acknowledge the alleged involvement of the Indian government in anti-Sikh rioting that occurred in 1984. Other Sikh leaders dismissed the opposition as a fringe group.

In finally edging out a victory Wednesday, Costa narrowly avoided one of the biggest upsets of the midterm elections. He beat Republican challenger Johnny Tacherra 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent in a contest that neither of the two parties expected to be so close.

The robust challenge to Costa, whose family has farmed in the San Joaquin Valley for more than 80 years, was a surprise. Tacherra, a dairy farmer, flew so far under the radar that national and state Republicans pretty much ignored him.

Costa outspent Tacherra by a margin of roughly 3-to-1, and he benefited from a 16-point voter registration edge for Democrats in the district. He had won his 2012 race by a comparable margin.

In a statement, Costa said he was humbled to win another term and said focusing on improving the economy in the Central Valley, where many communities still struggle with double-digit unemployment, would be a priority.

In an acknowledgement of his party’s minority status, he said he would continue to work in a bipartisan fashion. “There are many challenges facing the next Congress, all of which require a representative who is not afraid to reach across the aisle to find viable solutions on water, transportation, and schools,” he said.

Low turnout among Democrats and independents, combined with anger over federal water policy and government regulations in the heavily agricultural district, helped make the race so close.

Tacherra seized on that frustration, accusing Costa in ads as being a rubber stamp for the “Obama agenda.”

In a statement Wednesday, Tacherra said he had reached out to congratulate Costa and thanked the tens of thousands of voters who supported him. He said he would continue to “engage on behalf of the people of the Central Valley, especially when their government fails them.”